School Climate Characteristics Associated with Dropout Rates for Black and White Students

Lee, Talisha, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Cornell, Dewey, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Sheras, Peter, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Gregory, Anne, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Fan, Xitao, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

This study investigated school characteristics that were predictive of high school dropout rates for Black and White students using a sample of 289 public high schools from the Virginia High School Safety Study. School structure (consistency and enforcement of school rules and discipline) and support (availability of caring adults) were tested for a direct statistical influence on dropout rates after controlling for school level risk factors of urbancity, proportion of minority students, and proportion of students eligible for a free or reduced price meal (FRPM). Scatterplots for student dropout rates revealed a curvilinear relationship between the Black dropout rate and the proportion of Black students, with higher dropout rates in schools with relatively few Black students and in schools with a majority of Black students. This curvilinear relationship was also found between the White dropout rate and the proportion of White students. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses found that neither structure nor support were uniquely predictive of dropout rates for Black or White students. To investigate the combined role of structure and support, schools were categorized as authoritative (high structure, high support) or authoritarian (high structure, low support). T - tests found that authoritative schools had significantly lower whole - school and White dropout rates than authoritarian schools, but there were no significant differences in Black dropout rates. Lastly, suspension rates were used as a method of distinguishing authoritative schools from authoritarian schools. This study found that higher rates of suspension were significantly associated with higher dropout rates for all students, as well as for Black and White students. These results were maintained after statistically controlling for school racial composition, FRPM, urbanicity, per pupil expenditure, teacher Victimization, student aggressive attitudes, and peer acceptance of school rules. The major conclusion from this study is that efforts to reduce high suspension practices and facilitate a structured and supportive school climate may be useful strategies to reduce high school dropout rates.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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